Pastoral Letter on
Pro Choice Catholicism
Pro Choice Catholicism is fully “Catholic”
On February 28, 2006, Fifty-five Catholic Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives issued a statement that they have the right as good Catholics to respectfully disagree with the Church’s teaching on abortion, at least in their roles as representatives of all the people they represent. On March 10, 2006, three Roman Catholic bishops – Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, head of the bishops’ Pro-Life Activities Committee; Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, DC, who heads a task force on Catholic politicians; and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, chairman of the bishops’ Domestic policy Committee – replied to the Democratic Catholic congressmen that, succinctly, there was no room to be good Catholics and to be a Pro-Choice legislator at the same time.
The Catholic Diocese of One Spirit is served by this bishop, not of the Roman Rite but as thoroughly “Catholic” as the three Roman Catholic bishops who issued this statement, as “Catholic” as any Catholic bishop including the Pope. I respectfully disagree with the Roman Rite bishops’ position. I categorically state that there is room for differences on this issue, both from the historical stances of the Church, from the learning we continually acquire as to how God works in this world, and from traditions existent within the worldwide Catholic Church in all its complexity and shades. I would further like to encourage the Catholic congressmen that their Catholic faith allows them to encompass their current beliefs and practices.
The reality is that theological opinion on abortion has been far from unanimous over the past two millennia. Elected representatives who may be Catholic are free to be Pro Choice, and publicly so.
“Authentic” teaching of the Church
Catholic teaching is only the belief of the Church if it is “received” by the people of the Church. That means that anything promulgated by the hierarchy which does not resonate as true in at least most of the Catholic people is opinion and not essential to Catholic belief. Polls show that roughly half of all Catholics, like most of the American population, believe that abortion can be allowed in certain cases and that the decision belongs to the woman. Therefore, the Pro Life position is not infallible teaching of the church, and not necessarily a requirement of being a good Catholic, no matter how many priests and bishops (and even popes) say so.
There are also many priests who are secretly Pro Choice, though they could never say so, and would never say so if asked. They know full well that they would be ostracized from their clerical fraternity and silenced by their superiors.
When are souls “created?”
The Pro Life argument is based on the assumption that souls are created for specific bodies at the time of the formation of those bodies. Who says? Certainly Jesus never touched this subject directly or indirectly. Not even modern medicine would venture as to when a “soul” began, having as difficult time, as it does, with when a “soul” actually enters a body (or, as usually stated another way: “when life begins”). I think it is equally plausible to believe that all souls, as individuated expressive manifestations of God, have existed since the beginning of time, perhaps prior to that.
Moreover, isn’t it a bit narrow of us to think that souls, which realistically may have existed beyond our earliest understanding, and which will live eternally, have only this 60-100 year lifetime to get it all right? What tells us that this incredibly short episode within eternal existence is “it”? Certainly nothing in the words of Jesus tell us that.
The Pro Life position has to be based on the belief that each soul is created by God for a specific body as that body is being formed in the womb of its mother, and that, if aborted, that soul is forever blocked from further life and shut off from God. Under this scenario, God notices a couple in Western Africa copulating and cranks out another soul (“Off you go to the Congo, little soul … luck of the draw!”). Frankly, that scenario presumes a rather strange “God.” The God of the Judeo-Christian heritage is All Loving, compassionate, the source and the life from which all reality draws its continued existence.
Jesus said “the Father and I are One,” and “you are in me, and I am in you.” The Aramaic language which Jesus spoke (not the Greek language of the original Gospels or the Latin of the earliest translation we have existent [the Latin Vulgate of St. Jerome]) gives us a greater vision of what Jesus taught than we are used to in current Gospel translations. When he spoke of the “Kingdom of God,” the “Reign of God,” and the “Kingdom of Heaven” 140 times in the Gospels, the Aramaic words Jesus used actually meant “the all-pervasive presence of the sovereign power of God in All That Is.” He never meant the Kingdom of Heaven is some future promise, but that it is “at hand,” it is “within.” God is within all that is. Nothing is outside the divinity of God, because it is not possible for anything to be outside the divinity of God. Anything that exists, exists as a unique manifestation of God. God is the life and the existence of anything that is, including each soul, born or unborn, in this life or on the other side of life. Our God is good and loving, and never forsakes us.
We cannot thwart God’s Will
Do we really think that if we humans decide that a soul should not come to this particular body by ceasing its formation early on through an abortion (just as, in like manner, we humans decided to begin it in the first place), we actually stop God’s timeless purpose for that soul? Do we really have that kind of power that we can thwart God’s “will”? Hardly! Isn’t it short-sighted to think that this life, no matter how abbreviated or how long, or how re-directed if the body is diverted as a home for a soul in this lifetime through an abortion, is essential to any soul’s never-ending journey, just because it is the limited perspective we happen to have now? If souls exist eternally before and after this lifetime, then they continue to be the image and likeness of God, temples of the Holy Spirit, sanctified, reflections of their creative God throughout all eternity.
None of us are capable of thwarting God’s will, because God would then be deficient to that degree, and God is never deficient. As we co-create with God, we have been given the right to make decisions in concert with God. Each soul has trillions of myriad options open to it in the future. No abortion stops God’s interminable plan dead in its tracks; no single instance (a mere blip on the eternal screen of experiential existence) sidetracks the soul (a unique manifestation of God) from its eternal journey of self discovery … because God has given each soul never-ending life.
God acts through, with and in us
Finally, there is an essential question as to whether God creates, sustains and moves this universe forward acting as a singular Director, calling all the shots, or whether God creates, sustains and moves this universe forward acting as a Symphonic Conductor, calling forth the blossoming of the universe through the decisions, energies and judgments of all God’s manifestations (i.e., originally spirits and angels, and now joined by us human/spiritual creatures).
The Jesus who respected everyone he met and told them that God was within them seems to be saying that God acts through us and in us. Jesus was so full of respect for the individual conscience that he only healed those who asked, he found no person out of bounds for him, and he did not condemn even those who killed him.
Not being yet the fullness of God ourselves, we can obviously never thwart God’s plan for souls (the expressed individuated life-forces of God) to ultimately, through the billions (trillions?) of years’ evolutionary process and through eternity, experience the Wholeness of ourselves as the pieces of God that we are. But it certainly looks as if God chooses to let this process go forward with us as co-creators. All our decisions have value. Through the ups and downs of it all, God emerges in creation and in us.
Brain wave activity
If the cessation of brain wave activity is considered the critical factor for determining the end of life, why should not the inception of brain wave activity also be considered the critical factor for the beginning of life?
If “potential life” must be safeguarded and be preserved so that nascent life be brought to fruition, when must that safeguarding begin? Most human beings carry within themselves the potential for hundreds, thousands even, of offspring. Does Pro Life theory require that anything which would curtail the full potential of thousands of children per person be outlawed, to ensure that the full potential is born? Is each male to save and protect the millions upon millions of sperm his body periodically and automatically expels? At what point does life become “actual” and not just “potential?” At what time is official protection reasonable and right? Thoughtful people can legitimately differ on this.
Pro Choice is as valid a Catholic alternative as is Pro Life
No Catholic and no Christian is compelled to be Anti-Abortion, or Pro-Life, though Christians may certainly determine that they should be. Likewise, no Catholic and no Christian either must be or must not be Pro-Choice, though Christians may certainly determine that they should be. We are all called to use our good sense and decide for ourselves. Nobody has legitimate spiritual or moral authority over our individual conscience. This is good Catholic theology. This is good common sense. Nobody can be expelled from his or her religion for following his or her conscience. Nobody else is ever given that right over another.
Churches are dead wrong to coerce their members into what the church’s hierarchical party line is. The Church is the people of God … ALL of them, not just its administrative leadership. What the Church believes is what we the people of the Church (all the people) believe.
Catholic politicians are always advised to follow their consciences. When a Catholic politician does that, he or she is a fully-participating member of the Church, of the Body of Christ. They cannot be expelled from the life of God by a mere human person; nobody (neither pope, bishop nor priest) has the right or the ability to do that.
Conscience as the Defining Requirement to Judgment
The teaching of Thomas Aquinas is the bedrock of traditional, conservative Catholic theology. Thomas states conclusively that conscience is to be followed, in every case, after thoughtful inquiry. For the Catholic, Christian or other person who follows her conscience to the point of having an abortion, after having wrestled with this problem to the best of her ability (as she knows it, not as others state it should be), she suffers no moral judgment or condemnation. God honors her choices.
Catholics, like all human beings, are always obliged to follow, first of all, their consciences. This concept of individual conscience first is essential to the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, and is taught in seminaries and Catholic universities to this day as fundamental Catholic teaching. A person who takes the time to inform himself or herself is called by God to follow his or her conscience.
The Goodness Inherent in both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice Supporters
What we can all honor the Pro-Life supporters for is their respect for life. No one can doubt their sincerity or dispute that the “life” they fight for is all-important. After all, in so many ways, the word “God” can be equated with the word “Life.” In the Aramaic language Jesus spoke, the word “ruha” meant breath of all humans, breath of all animals, wind (“breath of the earth”), tidal movement, and all movement within physicality. If the people of his time had known about the movement of particles around the nucleus of the atom, that probably would have been “ruha” as well. The same exact word also meant “spirit,” and Jesus elevated this by calling it the “HOLY spirit.” For Jesus, God/Divinity is infused in every nook and cranny of physicality. Everything is then sacred. To the extent that the traits of God show up more in certain forms of physicality than in others – the highest we know of being human beings – to that extent God/Life is more to be honored in those higher forms.
However, the question really is: are we required to act as if this particular experience of life is all there is, that life is not enduring and does not have an eternal journey, that God is only capable of giving us this one experience to determine our eternity, that God is really not all-loving and all-infusing and not permeating all creation … with the result that some of God’s creation falls away and ends separate from that which is its continuous source of life? No, greater faith in God – based on the constant message of Jesus regarding God’s overwhelming loving presence in all that is – tells us that God never lets go, that we are destined to be as Jesus was and to do greater things than he did, that we are obviously not there after one life’s term on this earth, and that our souls (which have no galactic bus to catch) have eternity to get back to our Source, Which never lets us go.
Humans cannot thwart that, but we can use our God-given freedom of choice to choose the eternal circumstances under which we each arrive at that eventual destination.
P.S. There is still another, tangential though important, aspect to consider: reincarnation. Though not a necessity in our understanding of what life means, reincarnation nevertheless intrudes as a significant mitigating factor, and consideration of it may enlighten our understanding of how God equals Life.
Reincarnation either is or it isn’t true, and what IS – beyond our current understanding – is happening anyway, whether we believe it or not.
Do we each get only one chance?
What makes us think that a soul gets only one chance at a life here on earth? Why would God, in concert with God’s co-creators (us) not continue the process of that soul entering another body or enter some other form of experiential existence? Perhaps a soul had never entered the body of an aborted baby. Perhaps it had. If it had, then there was a purpose for that short visit, an experience that short-visiting soul had graciously given for the experience of the aborting parents. God makes good out of everything. We should not presume that belief in reincarnation is not Christian. A great many Christians and Catholics believe in many lifetimes for each soul.
Half the world believes in reincarnation, but it is presumed to be something that is not in keeping with Christianity. However, many Christians believed in reincarnation from the time of Christ to beyond the Fourth Century, and many believe in it today. Many of the early church Fathers taught it openly, e.g., Origen, Justin Martyr, Jerome, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Plotinus. But St. Augustine’s anti-reincarnation viewpoint won out, and he succeeded in scrubbing it from Christian teachings.
The Scriptures do not speak of rebirth definitively. The Scriptures do not speak of many things which may have been presumed or which may have been budding, nascent understandings. But the references to multiple lives is so casually passed by, that we now tend to squeeze whatever understandings the people of Jesus’ day were coming to sense into the later interpretations we have been taught. Perhaps there were other mentions of reincarnation in the Bible which were purged in the first few centuries when church leaders were translating from one language to another, selecting texts considered primary, and rewriting as they thought proper. Yet these sayings did remain:
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
– John 9:2
How could the man who was born blind have already sinned, unless he had lived an earlier life?
Once when Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” They said in reply, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.'”
– Luke 9: 18-19
The apostles themselves answered Jesus that many of His followers thought Jesus to be the reincarnation of an earlier prophet. Jesus did not correct this concept of reincarnation, but went on to explain how He is more than that.
Then the disciples asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He said in reply, “Elijah will indeed come and restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.
– Matthew 17: 10-13
That is about as plain a recognition as of continuous lived experiences as there could be. Jesus tells his disciples that John the Baptist had been Elijah in a prior life. It is quite plausible for Christians to believe that we are each entities that choose to come back to this physical world, to be continually re-incarnated, until we shall have achieved the perfection of God, as shown to us as an example and fully lived first by Jesus Christ. It is not necessary to believe in reincarnation to also be Pro Choice, but it does add yet another element of confirming support.